Teenage Personality, 21 December 1967,
"Rhodesia has produced several top-class recording artists who have become prominent in the highly competitive South African scene. Jody Wayne and the Etonians in particular have carved an enviable niche for themselves in our beat set-up.
Now another all-Rhodesian group has the fans all goggle-eyed as they conjure up their brand of musical wizardry on the bandstand of El Castilian, currently one of Durban's most with-it places for the guys and dolls. The band does not really need much introduction because they have been blowing up a storm for some years now. They are the Drifters - remember when they toured with the Peter and Gordon show?
The line-up consists of Nick Pickard, the leader who plays organ and lead guitar, Mel French (bass guitar), Jack
McGroarty (vocalist), Jerry Barnard (rhythm guitar) and Jim McDiarmid (drums and flute).
For the first five weeks of their Durban contract that wonderful songbird Maureen Moore chanted soft or swinging numbers as the mood required with the Drifters. With Maureen and Jack sharing vocals and backed by a big solid sound, a successful Durban launching was assured. The Drifters got under way in 1963 in Salisbury and it wasn't long before they made their first recording entitled Lucille with Someone, Someone on the reverse. Nick, Mel and Jim were members of the original band.
We made a single in the early 60's called Lucille. It was recorded in the Government studios somewhere around
3rd or 4th street. It was sung at that
stage by our singer Dave McClelland. The LP made around 1964 was called
Bundu Beat and featured 4 bands. We
also made a record called Ode to an Undertaker/ Living Above Your Head in
The original band was formed at the begining of the sixties and I
joined in 1963. We were called The Drifters, comprising Nic Pickard,
myself, Paddy on drums, Chris on rhythm guitar and singers George De Klerk
and Dave McClelland. We played at the Mazoe Hotel on Sundays. We continued to change over the years taking in Harry Hayden on lead guitar,
and drummers Mark, another Paddy, Jim McDiarmid and finally Neil Fox at the
Having heard about the activities of the band it's time to look at the chaps who make it swing. Quiet spoken Jim McDiarmid, who often beats out a noisy rhythm on drums, is a good starting point...
Born in Umtali, Jim was a pupil of Umtali Boys' High School where he was prominent at athletics and a member of the first hockey team. During his last year at school music really captured his imagination. A drummer in the cadet band he began to take an interest in dance band work after filling in at a variety concert when the regular drummer was taken ill. Jim made a switch to beat when he moved to Salisbury where he joined the Indigos and played professionally for the first time in 1962. Soon afterwards the band cut its first disc which was The Camel with Windy on the flip. Not many weeks after the Indigos graduated into TV.
Jim later teamed up with the Drifters and has been with them ever since. Although he is fond of beat his aspirations may one day take him beyond the playing side of music. He likes the Hollies and Manfred Mann but when it comes to jazz Jim's preference lies with the Miles Davis quartet and Thelonius Monk. Apart from being a talented drummer, Jim plays with feeling on the flute. When he uses this instrument a re-arrangement of line-up of the Drifters makes for a completely different sound which is jazz-like in its conception. Jim takes his music seriously. 'I am studying theory by correspondence course,' he explained. 'I write my final at the end of 1968 and I want to make music my career. I cannot see beat lasting indefinitely and it is my aim to become an arranger and composer. Pop is growing more progressive every year. It isn't as simple as it used to be and I do think it will be around for a long time yet. But I think if one wishes to remain in music there should be something to fall back on. It is my ambition eventually to go to America to further my musical studies.'
Nick, who leads the Drifters, started playing music in 1962 after records of Bill Hayley and the Comets and Cliff Richard had caught his fancy. He decided to join a rock band and they played at minor Saturday night functions in Salisbury. ' Shortly after this I went to England for a two-month holiday,' related Nick. 'There I heard a then unknown group called the Beatles and was so impressed that I bought their first long-playing album when it was released the following week.'
'The more I played the disc the more it appealed to me. On my return to Rhodesia I again linked up with the Drifters and we rehearsed several numbers from the record. In 1963 we entered a national band competition and mainly through our interpretation of some of those early Beatles' numbers we were adjudged the winners. In actual fact, it was only eight months after my return from England that the Beatles were first heard of in Rhodesia. When we had the chance of a contract in Durban in 1964 we jumped at it.. Soon after it was signed we were southward bound to open a long spell at the Al Fresco Terrace. This booking helped us to get established on the South African circuit because many holiday makers heard us.'
'It also provided us with the break we had been looking for when we were asked to tour with the Peter and Gordon show. We gained further valuable experience by visiting the main centres with them. At the same time we had the chance of studying the techniques of some of the other artists in the show which included the English singer Jackie Trent, the Zombies (now Four Jacks and a Jill), the Amazons and the Stereos. Having accumulated some money, Mel and I went overseas for a year and we played for a time in London as a song-and-guitar duo. Then came a four month engagement in Austria before we returned to England where we did a season at Brighton. When I returned to Rhodesia I rejoined the Drifters and when Mel got back we were ready to open with our present group at Le Coq d'Or in Salisbury as professionals. When the chance of a further spell in Durban presented itself we gladly accepted because we are firm believers in moving around in order to become known. We did plan to produce a sound different from that of other groups but after experiments found our idea did not pay off and we fell back on close-harmony vocals. Today we are one of the most commercial bands in Southern Africa.'
The Drifters' latest vocalist, Jack, is the humorist and composer of the outfit. He went to school at Christian Brothers' College in Bulawayo and started his singing career as far back as 1960 when he was a member of the Apaches. In 1962 Jack moved to Salisbury and threw in his lot with the Chequers. He turned professional when he received the offer to sing for six months at a Cape Town hotel. Jack later joined up with Jerry Barnard and the two of them became part members of the Fugitives. A move to the Stereos was the next step before they settled in with the Drifters. Jack loves composing and has turned out some very good material. Although preferring to be solely a vocalist, he is a competent guitarist when the occasion demands. He likes songs that allow plenty of expression and Tom Jones is a singer he goes nutty over.
Jerry went to Prince Edward School in Salisbury where he finished in 1964. He started his own band known as the Bandits which had a successful run in Salisbury until it broke up and he also joined the Fugitives group. This capable guitarist turned professional in April 1967 when he took over the rhythm berth in the Drifters at Le Coq d'Or. This was the logical step for Jerry to follow because music is very much in his blood. Spencer Davis and the Hollies are his top favourite artists.
Mel was born in Salisbury and completed his education at Chaplin School in Gwelo in 1961. Always keen on music he started his own skiffle band before moving to Bulawayo and joining the Coronets with whom he played for a year. At the beginning of 1963 Mel moved to Salisbury where he met and linked up with the band run by Nick. Since then their musical careers have followed similar courses and their close understanding has had much to do with the impressive front--line sound of the Drifters. While he was in England, Mel made it his business to meet as many recording artists as possible and some he was introduced to were Duke Ellington, the Rolling Stones, Spencer Davis, the Troggs and the Animals. Mel enjoys listening to discs in his spare time and rates the Hollies, the Beatles and Georgie Fame as tops. He also admits to a liking for jazz with the three- and four-piece combos his particular favourites.
The Drifters' most recent single is Living Above Your Head which features Mel doing a catchy lead vocal with the four remaining voices adding an effective harmony. Jack penned the flipside which is The Funeral and is something for the psychedelic brigade. The Drifters rather revolutionised the music presented at Le Coq d'Or in Salisbury when they moved in as the resident group. Before this nothing but straight dance bands had played at this popular nightspot.
Correction note: the b side of "living above your head", a cover of a Walker Brothers single, was called "Ode to an undertaker".
South Africa's Rock Classics